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How do dinosaurs get their names?

Giving any living or extinct organism a scientific name is governed by a set of rules called the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature, and paleontologists who name dinosaurs must follow those rules to make the name valid. The code requires that a scientific name be composed to two parts. The first part, called the genus, is always capitalized; the second, called the species is never capitalized. Both names are always italicized, and sometimes the genus name is abbreviated (as in T. rex for Tyrannosaurus rex). The genus name may be used alone to refer to all the species in a particular genus. Created by American Museum of Natural History.

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Video transcript

Dinosaurs get their names because paleontologists give them their names. We name dinosaurs all the time and you know there's just different conventions people have different styles. Some of these complex dinosaur names we know just roll off the tongue of little kids but how did they get those names? There's a nomenclature and there are rules to that nomenclature that require every dinosaur, in fact every organism, name to have two separate names. The first is the genus name, and it's always capitalized like Tyrannosaures. Rex is the species name that follows, in other words there's a particular species of Tyrannosaurus called Tyrannosaurus rex. Now these names kind of came from Latin or Greek words. Tyrannosaurus means terrible lizzard and they can either describe some anatomical characteristic of the dinosaur, like triceratops, it's named after the three horns on top of his head. Or they can be names that honor someone; maybe the person who collected a lot of dinosaurs. Sometimes dinosaurs are named afterwhere they're found like Edmontosaurus is good example, it means it's from near Edmonton in Canada. Traditionally in the old days almost every dinosaur ended in "saurus" so we have, you know Edmontosaurus, Tyrannosaurus, Albertosaurus. That sort of changed a little bit. One of the things that we regularly do now is we name dinosaurs that are found in China have the suffix long. l o n g so like, Guanlong, Khunglong. Long means dragon in Mandarin. And this is kind of how these dinosaurs get their names. they're not simply meaningless, but they're either describing some aspect of the animal, where it was found, or someone that was important in its discovery. And we have a lot of these examples in the dinosaur halls here at AMNH.